Vec Makropulos


Detective opera based on the play by Karel Čapek

Stage Director – Dmitry Bertman
Musical Director – Gennady Rozhdestvensky
Set and Costume Designers – Igor Nezhny and Tatiana Tulubieva

Lighting Designer – Aleksandr Kelganov
Director-Coach – Matvey Osherovsky
Playing time – 1 hour 40 minutes (two intermissions)
Premiere – June 25, 2003

A woman of 337 years old is still young and beautiful. And you know – she is unhappy…We are happy – as we know that life is short. That is why every moment should be used properly – this is how Leos Janacek has explained the plot of “VecMakropulos” (Makropulos Case) in the letter to his Muse  KamilaStosslova, a woman 38 years younger than him, a woman whose reciprocity he has been searching for years. Since Janacek met her, he has sent her more that seven hundred love letters,and  has given her character traits  to all the heroines of his works.

The “Vec Makropulos” opera has not become the exclusion. All the character traits of the impassionate Kamila  have been implemented in the main heroine – ElinaMakrolupos, who has lived a fantastically long life and changed so many names though keeping the initials “E.M.” On inviting his beloved one to the Prague premiere the composer has written a note to Kamila: ”Are you coming to see this cold creature? You could possible see your own portrait”. A play of Karel Capek, written in the style of Gothic novel and decadent drama, has inspired Janacek to covert it into the libretto of the beautiful poetic opera, capable to attractthe true lovers of vocal art. The music of the opera is really strong, beautiful, rich in melodies and harmonies, both complicated emotionally and simple in perception. Owing to its strong emotional  impact, the production of Dmitry Bertman could be compared to the thrillingdetective story, in which the startling mystery of the elixir of eternal youth of Elina Makrolupos would be disclosing step by step.


Leoš Janáček (1854–1928) in a letter to his muse Kamila Stosslova described the plot of “The Makropulos Affair” the following way: “The woman is 337 year old, but she is still young and beautiful. And, you know, she is miserable… We are happy, because we know that life is short. That’s why we need to use each moment in a proper way”. 

Janáček met Kamila, the wife of David Stossel, an antique dealer in 1917 in a resort. He sent her more than seven hundred love letters, added her traits to the heroines of all his later works. Inviting his beloved to the Prague premiere of “The Makropulos Affair”, the composer wrote: “Will you come to see this cold woman? Maybe you’ll see your own portrait”. Elina Makropulos who changed many names with permanent initials “E. M.” during her fantastically long life, became a new embodiment of eternal feminity for Janáček — and a new image of cold Kamila, a woman 38 years younger than he, whose love he tried to get so long and vainly. The author was working on “The Makropulos Affair” from 11 November 1923 to 3 December 1925. It was based on the comedy by Karel Čapek (1890–1938). Having watched in 1922 one of the first performances of the play by the young Czech play writer (Čapek was 46 years younger than Janáček!), the musician soon told him, that he would like to create an opera based on the plot of“Makropulos”. Čapek humbly answered, that his absolutely anti-poetical and too talky play would not be good enough for the person, whose creative work he appreciated so much. But to his sister Čapek characterized Janáček less diplomatically: “Old codger! He’d better set to music a local news column. It’s a good thing he doesn’t ask for my assistance… I have no time for it, but if I had, I wouldn’t like to deal with it”. Čapek was really sure, that even for a drama theatre his play was too talky and confessed to actress Olga Scheinpflugova, playing the role of Christina: “I would like to reduce it a bit, but I don’t know what way”. 

Janáček solved this problem brilliantly. He turned the pragmatic, businesslike comedy of Čapek into the libretto of a marvelous poetical opera just by reducing the dialogues. The text is too long for an opera libretto, but the part of it is not being sung — it is being quickly articulated in one note. Exactly this emotionless speech might be noted by the 70-year-old composer in the streets of Prague in 1920s. This was because he, being an admirer of Mussorgsky, got used to catch the intonations and constantly note the heard conversations long ago. Janáček  was struggling with the third act of the opera throughout a year, until he found a suitable solution. But thereafter he “wrote off like a machine”. In the epilogue of the comedy by Čapek the characters are discussing the possibility of eternal life from the practical if not cynical perspective. But Janáček by contrast created an inspirational, lyrical scene of the death of Elina Makropulos. The world premiere of “The Makropulos Affair” took place on 18 December 1926 at the National Theatre Brno.


Act 1
Prague, 1922. Reception of lawyer Kolenaty. Archivist Vitek puts away the file named “Gregor — Prus”. It is an inheritance lawsuit, which has been lasting for about a hundred years. Young Albert Gregor, representing a concerned party, asks about the state of the case. Kolenaty has submitted it to the Supreme Court and it hasn’t been returned yet. A young singer Christine rushes in, the daughter of the Archivist Vitek. She admires Emilia Marti, a famous opera singer. Suddenly Marti appears accompanied by the lawyer Kolenaty. The Prima Donna asks Gregor about the case. Marti says about some arguments for the case to be solved in his favor. But Kolenaty sees few evidences for Gregor to win the case. Marti asks what kind of documents is necessary. “The testament”, Kolenaty answers. Then Emilia Marti tells about an envelope with the testament written by Ferdinand Joseph Prus in his own hand, which is kept among the papers in the house of Prus. Kolenaty considers it as an idle lie, but Gregor insists on his checking the singer’s words. Gregor is charmed by Emilia. He asks her about the documents and confesses he is ready to commit suicide if he doesn’t come into the inheritance. Marti brushes Gregor aside simultaneously trying to gain his support in order to find out about another secret envelope. Kolenaty returns together with the Gregor’s opponent Yaroslav Prus. He congratulates Gregor with the finding of the testament, but underlines it should be yet proven, that the Prus’s illegitimate son Ferdinand is the Ferdinand Gregor. Emilia Marti promises to introduce conclusive evidence.

Act 2
Backstage of an opera theatre. A stage machinist and a charwoman are discussing Marti’s charm and her genius to acting. Prus enters the room, followed by his son Janek and Christine. He is looking for Marti. The Prima Donna appears. She’s tired, cut her low mood has been slightly improved by an old weak-headed Gauk-Shendorf. As being in a state of delirium he repeats the name of some Eugenia, a Spanish gipsy, which he loved for about fifty years ago. As Marti speaks to him in Spanish, kisses and tenderly calls him Maxy, he is convinced that Eugenia hasn’t been died. At the same time Prus asks Marti about Elian McGregor. He has read her love letters and suspects some lie, because in the Ferdinand’s birthday certificate the name of his mother is Elina Makropulos (with the same initials). Since an illegitimate child is given the mother’s name, her son should have received the name Ferdinand Makropulos, otherwise the estate will come into possession of the Prus’s family. Marti is ready to buy the precious envelope, found by Prus among the other papers, but he refuses to do it and leaves. 

Gregor returns. He makes the declaration of his desperate love to the tired by the conversation, half-sleeping Marti. Having awaken Marti sees Janek and entreats him to bring her the envelope titled “To deliver by hand to my son Ferdinand” from the house of his father. Prus has overheard them. He chases off his son and agrees to give the envelope to Manti for a sleep with her…

Janek is getting a peep of his father.

Act 3
The next morning. Emilia Marti’s hotel accommodation. Prus gives her the envelope. His stipulation has been fulfilled. He feels deceived — Emilia was as cold as ice in bed. The house-parlourmaid tells Prus that he has been waited for downstairs. Prus leaves and returns soon: he has found out that his son Janek has committed suicide because of a desperate love to Marti. The Prima Donna is listening to the furious Prus indifferently. He is disturbed by Gauk-Shendorf. He offers the escape to Spain. Emilia plays the old man up.

Soon Gregor appears in the room together with Kolenaty, Christine and the Gauk’s wife. Pani Gauk leads her husband out. Kolenaty talks about a strong resemblance of the signatures of Emilia Marti and Ellian McGregor on the documents. He suspects a fake.

At first Marti ignores the accusations, while the others rush to look at the papers. Suddenly Marti draws revolver and having instantly changed her tactics says  he wanted first to fix herself and then to explain. Those present ferret in the Emilia’s belongings and find a number of the objects marked “E. M.”. Marti goes to the next room.

Prus insists that handwritings of Elina Makropulos and Ellian McGregor are identical. Marti returns with a bottle of whiskey and tells that she was born on Crete in 1585 and was given a name of Elina Makropulos. She is 337 years old. Her father Hieronymus was the court healer of the King Rudolph, who was governing from 1576 to 1612. The monarch ordered the healer to find the elixir of immortality. The  lchemist found the necessary formula and gave it to his 16 year old daughter to test the potion. Having drunk the elixir she slipped into a coma, while the healer was imprisoned. Soon the girl recovered and escaped. Many years on she delivered the immortality formula to her beloved baron Prus, with whom she had a son, and after a while her grandgrand-grandson Albert Gregor was born.  As the elixir extends the life for thirty hundred years, Emilia requires new portion to avoid death. Although there was much lie in her life, now she is in a real danger.

At first nobody believes Marti, but soon the people realize that she tells the truth. She bears the weight of an enormously long life at her shoulders. And she is ready to present the formula to anybody who wishes it. But none wishes it. As soon as Christine takes the manuscript with the formula, Prus switches it out of her hands and burns it with the candle light, soundlessly repeating the words of the Greek prayer “Pater Hemon”. Marti sinks down as her life is slowly draining away.

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